Now Alabama Is Looking Into Harper Lee's Mental Health [UPDATE]


The controversy over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is just not done being depressing. According to the latest report the state of Alabama is investigating, after the whole affair prompted at least one person to file a complaint alleging possible elder abuse.

The New York Times reports that the question of Harper Lee’s mental state has divided Monroeville and the rest of the country into feuding camps. And now somebody has gotten the government involved (when somebody in rural Alabama’s willing to go that far you know it’s gotten real). The Times spoke to one person who spoke up:

One person who said that he had filed an anonymous complaint with the state is a doctor who has known Ms. Lee for years. The doctor said in an interview that he had called Alabama’s adult protective services hotline and asked the state to investigate whether Ms. Lee was too infirm to have fully consented to the publication of “Watchman.”
The doctor, who has not treated Ms. Lee and asked to remain anonymous because of the divisive nature of the issue, said he had been alarmed by reports of her frailty and by an account from someone he trusted who visited Ms. Lee last fall after the death of her sister, and said she was largely uncommunicative, lying in a fetal position in bed in the middle of the afternoon.

The inquiry is being handled by the state outfits that typically look into financial misdeeds against the elderly, Alabama’s Human Resources Department and also its Securities Commission. In the last month, investigators have spoken with Lee, various employees at her assisted living facility, and folks around town. It’s too soon to tell how it’ll play out:

It remains unclear what, if anything, will come out of the investigation, now more than a month old. One person informed of the substance of the interviews, who did not want to speak for attribution because the inquiry was ongoing, said Ms. Lee appeared capable of understanding questions and provided cogent answers to investigators.

Meanwhile HarperCollins has chimed in again. Publisher Michael Morrison said he’d visited with Lee in February and she was doing great:

“She was in great spirits, and we talked about how much we love ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and the details of the publication,” Mr. Morrison said in a statement to The Times. “It was a great meeting, and as expected, she was humorous, intelligent and gracious.”

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Updated, 4:50pm Thursday: Well, we didn’t have to wait very long! The Alabama Securities Commission tells that they’ve closed the investigation. They don’t deem it necessary to wade any further in:

The Alabama Securities Commission interviewed author Harper Lee about her upcoming book – and presumably whether she is of sound mind to make decisions about the release of it – and found no reason to intervene.
“We traveled to the nursing home to talk to Ms. Lee at the request of the Alabama Department of Human Resources,” said Steve Feaga, a lawyer with the securities commission. “We have since closed out files on the matter.”

Photo via AP.

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